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Hirono pushes for program to reunite families of Filipino WWII vets

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono has urged President Barack Obama to expedite a newly proposed program to reunite family members of Filipino World War II veterans.

In a Dec. 4 letter, Hirono and Sens. Harry Reid and Tim Kaine requested Obama and his administration to launch the parole program and accept applications by the end of the year. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, parole gives the Department of Homeland Security discretion to permit individuals to come to the U.S. — on a case-by-case and temporary basis.

On Oct. 2, the department announced its plans to create a parole-in-place program to allow “certain family members” of Filipino WWII veterans entry to the U.S. but it has yet to be implemented. The parole program was initially announced in July as part of the administration’s Modernizing & Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century” recommendations.

“President Obama’s initial announcement this summer was a relief to Filipino World War II veterans and their families who have waited decades to be reunited, and to those of us who fought for years to end the visa backlog,” said Hirono in a statement. “The administration is doing the right thing for these families. However, it is imperative that the administration implement the parole program as quickly as possible so these veterans and their spouses, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, can finally be together with their children.”

Hirono and the other senators stressed in the letter that “all family members” of veterans should be eligible to apply to the program under an expedited process.

“Because of time constraints and humanitarian factors facing Filipino veterans, family members should not have to first be invited by USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) to apply for the program. Instead, they should be allowed to apply affirmatively under an expedited process that does not require case by case invitations,” said the senators in the letter.

Until executive action takes place, veterans are required to file a family visa to bring family members to the U.S. from the Philippines. The process can take more than 20 years due to the immense backlog.

Filipino veterans were granted citizenship in recognition of their service during the war but their children were not afforded the same status. Some had initially petitioned their children to come to the U.S. when their children were three years old.

Advocates say there are a lot of unanswered questions on the parameters of the parole program.

In the letter, the senators provided the following recommendations for the program:

» Allow spouses, widows and children of Filipino veterans with approved I-130 petitions to apply for the parole program regardless of expected priority dates.

» Some children of the veterans are now adults and married. Regardless of their age and marital status, the children should be allowed to apply for the program.

» Children of deceased veterans should be allowed to apply to care for widows of veterans in the U. S.

» Children should be allowed to apply for the program as well as employment so those without legal status can care for their parents.

There are fewer than 5,000 Filipino WWII veterans in the U.S. As each year passes, the number of veterans dwindle.

Abelina Shaw, a Hawaii attorney who is closely working with veterans on family reunification cases, estimates 150 veterans reside on Oahu. “The idea of reunification is front and center in their minds every day and every time we meet,” she said.

All efforts by Hirono, U.S. Rep. Mark Takai and other congressmen are welcomed, she said. “But I wish it was something more certain and soon.”

Eric Lachica, volunteer executive director of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans based in Virginia, said the remaining veterans and their widows are awaiting Obama’s executive order on the issue.

“They are anxious for their adult children who have been waiting for more than a decade to join them in the USA. They need the emotional support and caregiving from their son or daughter in their fading days,” said Lachica, who is currently in Manila, in an e-mailed statement.